Know HPV & Connection To Oral Health

Posted on Oct 26, 2017 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

An estimated 20 million Americans are infected with HPV, the human papilloma virus. HPVs are a group of more than 200 viruses with 40 types easily spread through direct sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

The spread of HPV is said to be at an ‘epidemic’ level. Thus, the Centers For Disease Control & Prevention now recommends that 11 – 12 year olds receive an HPV vaccination. Being vaccinated before becoming sexually active can lower one’s risk of being infected by HPV types and several types of cancer HPVs are known to cause.

Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. In the 1980’s, HPV was attributed to around 16 percent of mouth and throat tumors. Within two decades, that figure had increased to nearly 75 percent. It’s been predicted that HPV-related mouth and throat cancers will outnumber cervical cancer by 2020.

Oropharyngeal cancers include malignancies of the tonsils, soft palate, base of the tongue and throat. HPV is commonly transferred through genital contact but HPV spread through oral sex is what increases the risk of mouth and throat cancers. (


Other factors that can heighten the risk that HPV will develop into cancer include:

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco (increases oropharyngeal cancer risk)
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having many children (increases cervical cancer risk)
  • Long-term oral contraceptive use (increases cervical cancer risk)
  • Poor oral hygiene (increases oropharyngeal cancer risk)
  • Chronic inflammation

While the use of condoms can reduce HPV transmission, condoms do not give complete protection against the infection because areas not covered by a condom can become infected.

To date, there are no FDA approved HPV detection tests for men. While recommended screening methods do not currently exist, HPV infections can be detected by testing cell samples to see if they contain viral DNA or RNA. Research is continuing to look for ways to make early detection easier.

When it comes to oral cancer, alert us immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms that do not clear up within two weeks:

  • Have difficulty swallowing
  • Have lumps in the neck
  • Experience pain in the mouth or ear
  • Notice unusual spots inside the mouth (including the tongue) or on the lips

Do NOT wait until your next check-up to have these evaluated. Call 828-274-9440 for an immediate appointment.

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